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Current political events of Venezuela


Chavez and the 1992 coup attempt

Members of the Venezuelan military, including Hugo Chavez, attempted a coup d'etat in 1992 to remove the democratically elected president, Carlos Andres Perez from power. The coup, which resulted in the deaths of 80 civilians and 17 members of the armed forces, failed and its supporters were jailed for treason. President Perez was eventually ousted. Then in 1998 With the country facing severe economic turmoil the presidential elections were held in December. With massive majority Chaves won with his Polo Patrioctico coalition party. His victory signified a new phase in the country's political life. Chaves promised a new constitution and wide-ranging reforms.

Presidential elections and new constitution

Chavez was elected president in 1998 with 56% of the vote as part of a new political party, the Fifth Republic Movement. His platform, (Bolivarian revolution), called for the signing of a new constitution written by a Constituent Assembly and approved by referendum in 1999. Chavez was re-elected in 2000 under the new constitution with 59% of the vote. In November 2000, the National Assembly granted Chavez the right to rule by decree for one year, and in November 2001, Chavez made a set of 49 decrees, including large reforms in oil and agrarian policy which made him even more popular with the poor.

Coup and strike/lockout

In December 2001, the umbrella group of the nation's largest business organizations, Fedecamaras, several workers' groups, the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Venezuela and the petroleum workers' union, PDVSA, called the country to a general strike. It was a first in the history of labour relations; owners, executives, managers and a few rank-and-file workers joined together to protest Chavez's economic policies. In April 11th 2002, during massive opposition demonstrations that unexpectedly began to march towards the Presidential Palace, high-ranking members within the Armed Forces refused Chavez's order to carry out the Plan Avila.

Although the exact circumstances are unknown, many unarmed protesters were shot, resulting in 18 deaths. Television broadcasts at the time showed people firing guns into the general direction of the demonstrators, but footage allegedly shot from another camera-angle disputes this. To this day, the responsibility for these deaths has not been established. Although there is the Documentary "The Revolution will not be Televised" filmed by Kim Bartley & Donnacha O Briain which indicates to a different chain of events. During the chaos that ensued, high-ranking military officials reported that Chavez had resigned . Fedecamaras President Pedro Carmona Estanga was placed in power once President Chavez was detained and immediately proceeded to dissolve all democratic institutions formed under Chavez. Carmona was supported by the some high-ranking military that had rebelled against Chavez. The coup rapidly unraveled when very large numbers of the poor sections of the population spontaneously walked, in some cases 5-10 km, to the center of government (Miraflores Palace) and demanded that Chavez was to be reinstated. During this period all private media companies introduced a news blackout which in hindsight prevented bloodshed as most army garrisons, that remained loyal to Chavez, did not know what to do as they did not receive orders to resist. Diosdado Cabello, Vice President of Venezuela, exerted his constitutional rights and temporarily assumed the position of president, until Chavez was restored to the Presidency.

Mass protests and recall referendum

The following two years were marked by protests by the opposition, who obtained more than 3 million signatures to call for a referendum on Chavez's presidency. A recall election was held on 15 August 2004, and Chavez won with approximately 60% of the vote [*]. The leaders of the opposition coordinating body, Coordinadora Democratica, refused to accept the results of the election saying there were numerous instances of fraud including voter harassment, tampering with the voting rolls, and a questionable nationalization process for more than one million recent immigrants.

Parliamentary elections of 2005

On December 4, 2005, five of Venezuela's major opposition parties boycotted the elections , charging that they were not being administered fairly; a random verification of 45% of the electronic votes (verified open source software was used) with paper ballots proved that the results of these elections were accurate. The last opinion polls prior to the elections had indicated that the Chavez alliance would have won around 150 of the 167 seats in the National Assembly, an indication that the opposition may have tried to avoid a historical defeat.

These parliamentary elections were marked by a low voter turnout of 25% (estimated 3 out of 14 million registered voters), compared to an historical turnout figure of around 45% in such elections, parliamentary elections being held separately from presidential elections.

Chavezs party, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), won 114 or 68% of the 167 seats in the new National Assembly, with the rest going to allied parties. Venezuela now no longer has a coherent, elected political opposition to Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution.

Chavez condemned the boycott as an attempt, largely backed by the United States, to destabilize both his government and its reforms as well as the election. Re-elected MVR congressman, and current Assembly president Nicolas Maduro, has proposed to make voting mandatory in response to December's abstention.

On December 9, 2005, National Assembly President Nicolas Maduro, MVR party leader Cilia Flores, and National Assembly Vice President Pedro Carreno claimed that Venezuelan state intelligence forces thwarted a plot to destabilize Venezuela during the election. They presented recordings allegedly involving active and retired dissident military officers talking about causing 15,000 deaths, chaos, and attacks on government institutions. According to the lawmakers, the CIA supported this plan. The recordings allegedly included the voices of various retired officers who were involved in the April 2002 events and are currently being sought by the police.

The explosion of two small devices a few days before the election, and the sabotage of a major oil pipeline on election eve were part of the plan, said the lawmakers. The night before the election, an explosion destroyed a part of the oil pipeline that supplies Venezuelas Paraguana oil refining complex, one of the largest in the world. Authorities later explained that the explosion was caused by C-4 plastic explosive. A day earlier, officials discovered 24 kilograms of C-4 and various weapons and grenades in Zulia state, in western Venezuela.

President Chavez and members of his government have repeatedly accused the U.S. of being involved in plots to kill him and to destabilize his government with terrorist actions.

The Chavez administration has so far presented no evidence supporting these accusations, however, although it has been documented that the U.S. government, via institutions such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the United States Agency for International Development, has provided opposition groups with monetary support.

Operacion Tenaza

On November 9, 2007, Venezuelan authorities said that an internal CIA memorandum had been obtained by Venezuelan counter intelligence from the US Embassy in Caracas. They say the document was authored by CIA Officer Michael Middleton Steere and was addressed to CIA Director General Michael Hayden. The document was dated November 20, 2007, titled "OPERATION PLIERS", apparently revealed in detail, expectations of the results and level of abstention, calling them "irreversable before the election". They say it details their role in the run up to the December election, aiding In total over 8 million dollars in the past month to the opposition, transferred through USAID. The document talks about preventive measures taken against the proposed reforms such as "take to the streets and protest with violent, disruptive actions across the nation", "Criticize and discredit the National Elections Council" as well as "Coordinate these activities with Ravell & Globovision and international press agencies".

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